No Copyright on Ideas?

Many years ago when I first started writing and taking pictures I remember being firmly told “there is no copyright in ideas“. The FAQ on the US Copyright Office site states it clearly: “Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way these things are expressed.”

Of course it isn’t always clear quite where the boundary between idea and expression lies, particularly in photography, and some court decisions in the past have perhaps clouded the water. So it was good to see the judge dismiss the case that photographer Janine Gordon had brought against Ryan McGinley so clearly; the New York Times quotes from his written judgement that her idea of copyright would result in claiming copyright in “virtually any figure with outstretched arms, any interracial kiss, or any nude female torso” and that it had “no basis in statute, case law or common sense.”

You can read a slightly longer report on ARTINFO, which also links to an earlier feature there which includes a slide show comparing several images by the two photographers which I think clearly demonstrates the ridiculous nature of the claim.

Ryan McGinley is a photographer I’ve written about on several occasions, here and elsewhere. In Ryan McGinley’s Lost Summer I suggested that he “seems to have got lost, perhaps seduced by becoming too well-known.” But his project that I was writing about was based on the “the kinds of amateur photography that appeared in nudist magazines during the 60s and early 70s” and that seems to me the true source of exactly the kind of things that Gordon was complaining about.  Surely something has to be original for you to claim copyright on it. But that might rule out the entire oeuvre of many photographers!

One Response to “No Copyright on Ideas?”

  1. ChrisL says:

    I visited a distant relative who was an ex reporter of a local paper some years back. I mentioned I was reading Hemingway at the time and he produced four first editions as a gift from his ex review stock. (Those were the days, when local papers published book reviews !!)
    The few reviews I have written have been from paid for stock but that does make it harder to reveal the buyers regret. I’ve not resorted to the bin,yet,though :-)

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